Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant that herbalist love because it works in several different ways. It is used as an adaptogen, a nervine, and is often included in longevity recipes. Normally, the dried roots are ground into a powder and used in recipes, but, for more experienced herbalist, the leaves and berries are sometimes used. Ashwagandha is a small shrub of the nightshade, or Solanaceae, family that produces green and yellow (on the same bloom) flowers and red berries. After the plant has had a full year of growth, the roots and berries are harvested in autumn.
In its natural climate, the plant is a perennial, but it may also be grown as an annual. It is sometimes called Indian ginseng although it is not related to ginseng at all; it does work in similar ways.
As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha works on the nervous system to help the body deal with stress and anxiety when used over a length of time. The plant contains steroidal lactones and alkaloids that relax the central nervous system. A relaxant and suppressant are different things. This plant is actually energizing and enhances stamina, strength, and vitality.
It is also used to enhance sexual stamina. It is not so much an aphrodisiac. It works to reduce stress and anxiety that inhibit sexual performance. The Herbal Academy of New England quotes a 2010 study when speaking of Ashwagandha.
“Ashwagandha may also improve fertility. A study in 2010 revealed that ashwagandha improved semen quality in infertile males by regulating reproductive hormone levels and seminal plasma oxidative stress (Ahmad et al., 2010).”
To make a fertility tea, mix one ounce of ashwangandha root (cut or chopped), one ginseng root, and one ounce of nettles in a pot of boiling water. After twenty minutes, lower the heat to a simmer for another few minutes. Strain and drink, keeping in mind that this is a tonic and meant to be consumed daily over a period of time. This recipe is typically made for males, although ashwagandha can improve sexual stamina in females as well.
As an immunomodulant, ashwagandha pevents white blood cell depletion which is a problem for people being treated with chemotherapy. It also contains potent antioxidants that protect cells against free radicals. It is currently being studied for ovarian cancer treatment, and in some cases, has shown to improve the condition of uterine fibroids. The plant shows promise for several cancer treatments. In An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda (AJTCAM 2011), Narendra Singh, et al. stated,
“Ashwagandha was found to be very useful in experimental carcinogenesis in the crude form. It prevented urethane-induced lung-adenomas in mice. The other effects of urethane like leucopoenia were also prevented. Urethane, which is a chemical stressor, causes variety of ill effects, all of which were prevented by Withania. The drug can be used as an adjunct to cancer chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Besides having an anti-cancer effect it will also reduce the side effects of anti-cancer agents, which invariably reduce immunity and quality of life. WS also acts as an immunomodulator and hence can enhance life span of cancer patients, where lowered immunity states of the patient are the cause of concern. Our results suggest its use as anti-tumor (Singh et al. 1979, 1981, 1986, 2010) and immunomodulator agent (Dixit et al., 1995).”
Ashwagandha has proven itself as a cognitive aid improving memory in the young and old. Master herbalist Rosemary Gladstar recommends it for mental acuity especially in combination with herbs such as gotu kola, ginseng, and ginko. She says, “Ashwagandha has a long reputation for clearing the mind, calming the nervous system, and promoting deep sleep.” Although it is an energizing (vitality) herb, it promotes sleep by bringing the nervous system into balance.
Ashwagandha has repeatedly shown to stop or slow neuritic (inflammation) atrophy and synaptic loss making it an extremely important medicine for Alzheimer’s patients. It is an amazing treatment for any stage of the disease. The powdered roots can be taken mixed with milk or water, etc., or with honey to make a spread. The plant can also be made into a tea or tincture.
It is possible to find capsules and extracts of herbal medicine, but it is important to know how these products are made, what else they may contain, and how the herb was grown and processed. There is no product on the market that is going to be as good as using an organic leaf or root and making your own tea or tincture.
Note: I have no affiliation with Mountain Rose Herbs, but I trust their products. Use these links to purchase ashwagandha root or root powder.